News Opinion

Saturday 22 October 2016

Comment: Dirty Dig at Joe Brolly cheapens a very serious issue

Published 27/09/2015 | 17:00

Joe Brolly and Conor Cusack
Joe Brolly and Conor Cusack
Gaelic football analyst Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly wrote a column in this paper last week which included a story about how after an under 10 team he coached lost a game they were, "All sobbing like contestants on the X Factor until I snapped at them, 'Quit yapping boys, it's embarrassing'. At which point the tears were switched off."

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This prompted Conor Cusack, brother of the more famous Dónal óg, to tweet, 'Distressing to read this in a national newspaper this morning from an U10 GAA coach & we wonder at men's high suicide', an over-reaction so wild and hysterical and downright unconnected with what Brolly had said as to make you wonder what the hell was going on there.

At which point I remembered that Dónal óg is no fan of Brolly and once gave out about him at length from the top table at a GPA meeting. Cusack Minor, it seemed to me, had used Brolly's unremarkable statement as a chance to land what is technically known as a Dirty Dig. A 'Hit me now with male suicide in my arms' kind of dirty dig.

He is, of course, entitled to say whatever he wants although it must be said that accusing someone of the kind of behaviour which can lead to suicide is a very dirty one indeed. However, the reason Cusack's tweet made the headlines is that he describes himself as a, 'mental health activist'. Since writing last year about his own struggles with depression, he's been speaking on the issue and it is in this capacity, one presumes, that he affected to be concerned about Brolly's coaching methods.

Yet I can't for the life of me see what those methods have to do with mental health. The implication of Cusack's tweet, I presume, is that by preventing the boys from giving vent to their sadness Brolly (left) was contributing to some kind of harmful emotional repression. But losing a game of football shouldn't be regarded as a particularly sad moment in life. There are more important things in life than football, or even hurling. Teaching youngsters that a match isn't worth crying about strikes me as an eminently sound policy.

Unfortunately, many of those under 10s will, like all of us, encounter genuinely sad moments in life, moments when tears will be unavoidable. Losing a match is very small stuff by comparison. You could even suggest that crying about defeat is a kind of tantrum about not getting your own way. These things are a judgement call for coaches and for parents who, whatever they decide, don't deserve to be read from a bully pulpit over it.

Conor Cusack's efforts to raise mental health issues are generally laudable but the problem is that when you get involved with any cause you have a responsibility to that cause. And his tweet last Sunday gave the usual suspects a chance to bang on about 'PC gone mad' and to have a cut at 'that mental health crowd.' If you wield an issue in this fashion, you risk cheapening the issue in question. It's no way to behave.

And if Joe Brolly were to have a dig at someone he doesn't like by saying, 'I saw X McX skulling pints the other night in Dungiven. It distresses me to see someone doing such damage to their liver when there are so many people in need of transplants', I'd say the same thing.

He might be wrong about the Cork footballers, but he's in the right on this one.

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